Embrace Competition in the World of Photography

Embrace Competition in the World of Photography

Competition…  Is it a good or bad thing? Does it help or hurt your business as a photographer?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. Does competition frustrate you? Or do you embrace it?  Here are some of my thoughts on competition as it pertains to my actions and training business and also to the photography industry.

I often get asked, “Does it bother you that so many people create and sell Photoshop actions now?”  When I read photography forums and blogs, I see action makers popping up all over.  When I first started selling actions and training photographers, I could count my competition on one hand.

When I first started my Photoshop actions and training business back in 2006, I had 2 action sets and the one-on-one Photoshop training.  I can only think of a handful of companies that sold actions at that time and nobody who offered one on one training.  The ironic thing is that the first few years of my business I had very little competition and I had fairly low income.  Now it seems you can almost buy actions and training at Wal-Mart or McDonalds, well not really but you get the idea. And with all the extra competition, my business is more successful than ever. I have a full line of products alongside private and group online workshops, and my blog now gets close to 100,000 unique visitors a month.  I definitely credit social networking with some of my growth.  But that aside, you might wonder how can you be more successful with more competition? So I analyzed what I do to separate myself from my competition and why I have grown my business, and hope these tips help you too.

  • Awareness: With all the competition came awareness.  Photographers now know more about actions and are familiar with the benefits.  Back in 2006 many were unaware. With photography, the same concept applies. Sure, you may see those who shoot and burn, come into your market.  But, when more professional photographers exist, more people will understand the true benefits of hiring a pro as well.
  • Hard work: Working hard and smart is so important. Very few businesses evolve with luck alone.  I know my business would not be where it is if I did not put my energy into it.
  • Customer service: Provide a great product and amazing customer service. I aim to do this in all facets of my business. If you do this, it will separate you from your competition.
  • Presentation: Create a strong brand and you will stand out from the crowd.  If you build a solid brand and reputation, you will find you have less competition.  People will want to have “you” photograph them.  You are the only “you.” No other photographer can sell that!
  • Stop worrying about your actual competition: Rather than spend all your time and energy frustrated about what other photographers are doing, use that energy to grow your skills and reputation.
  • Remember that not all photographers are your competition: Every day I hear photographers who charge higher prices complain about lower priced photographers, especially ones selling CDs/DVDs of images for low prices. Shoot-and-burn photographers typically cater to different customers than high-end photographers. In some cases skills will be similar, in other cases the work and experience will separate them. Just like at the mall with department stores, Neiman Marcus or Saks probably do not worry about Sears. If you have a $1,000+ average sale, you are not competing with those who make $100 per customer.
  • Be true to yourself: If you genuinely love what you do, the business will follow.  That said, you need to make sure you have the skills in marketing and in photography.  When you do what you love, it shows in your work.
  • There is enough business for everyone: Of course some of this depends on your goals and the size of your audience, but for the most part there is enough business to go around.  For me, think of how many photographers there are who own Photoshop.  How many people are making actions or providing training classes?  In the end, how many sales and how many people do I need purchasing from me to make the income I desire?  The % is very small.  So in the same way I do not need every photographer to know who I am or buy from me, you do not need every person in your city or town to buy from you, unless of course you have a town of 30-50 families.  Now apply this to your photography business.
    • How many people are in your town?
    • How many professional photographers are there?
    • How many areas are within easy drive? And what are there populations?
    • How many portrait sessions/weddings, etc. do you need to make your desired income?
    • See where this is going?  Chances are for most of you, you just washed away the need to worry about competition.
  • Broaden your audience: If you run into your competition too much, maybe you need to find new places to find customers.  For me, this meant diversifying and targeting places other than just photography forums. It also meant me creating a blog that has lots of word of mouth.  For you, this may mean trying other forums of advertising, reaching beyond your specific neighborhood or town, or getting creative with how you get your name out there.
  • Make friends: Network in your local community and online.  Utilize social media, blogging, mom groups, wedding coordinators, your child’s school, local businesses, etc.  Get your name out there so it is at the top of everyone’s referral list when people start asking.
  • Build partnerships with your competition: Partner with those you consider competition.  While this will not work in all situations and for all people, consider giving this a try.  Two are stronger than one. Look for win-win scenarios.  Reach out to photographers in your area.  You may just find that you have a wedding someone wants you to shoot and you are booked.  You can refer it to them.  Or you may find that you have a newborn shoot with twins and could really use an extra set of hands. If you partner with the “right” photographers, and that is key, it can grow your business and theirs. Just make sure everyone is winning.  And remember, no need to be selfish.  If you both can make more money doing what you love, isn’t that what it is all about?

As a photographer, you can choose to embrace competition and become stronger, or you can let it eat at you, consume you, and often hurt your business. So back to the original question, “does the competition bother me?”  When I started my business, competitors bothered me. I worried it would take away from my business.  Once I gained confidence and learned to believe in myself, I learned to work with some of my competitors and overall, it has been magical.  In the end it is WIN – WIN – WIN.  My customers win – my “competition” wins, and I win.

So I challenge each of you to start thinking of competition in a new way. If you agree, disagree, or if you have experiences to share, I want to hear your thoughts on competition. How do you deal with competition?  Have you found ways to embrace competition?  Does my answer to how I feel about competition help you think of things you could do differently in your business? Please share thoughts and comments here so that each of you can create a WIN – WIN exchange of ideas on the topic.

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24 Comments

  1. June 14, 2010 at 9:44 am — Reply

    You know, I used to worry my self to death about competition then I really started thinking about it. My clients come back to me for a reason and my first time clients come to me for a reason. With the “average” person being able to run out and buy a SLR and call themselves a photographer, it makes it harder for the “professionals” or the ones that are trying to do this to feed their kids to advance. Especially when they are out there charging $35 for a session.

    But this is how I look at it. Those will be weeded out. They will realize that you are selling yourself short or that they really can’t shoot a family session in auto. There’s more to taking a picture for a profession then just pointing, shooting and handing it to a client. I take pride in my work and work hard at what I do.

    Will the competition bother me? Sure but I think that’s human nature. I just have to plus along, offer something one up on someone else and keep doing what I do best. It all works out in the end. Plus, if you treat your clients right, good news spreads better/faster then bad news so word of mouth is my best client 🙂

  2. June 14, 2010 at 9:45 am — Reply

    I find I push my self more when thinking about competition, I want to strive to push my work to the next level when faced with competition, there are a couple fellow photogs that I refer people to when I’m busy or when it’s not my specialty. At the same time there are few new competitors that try to immolate my work which at first was flattering but now becoming old!

  3. June 14, 2010 at 10:31 am — Reply

    My biggest complaint about the photography industryfor the last 12 years has been that we don’t support one another in our field. Instead many photographers turn competitive and become like junior high mean girls (this applies to both sexes). I believe there is enough work for everyone. My work is not identical to my “competitors” and for that reason I feel they really aren’t my competitor. We all have our own style. I’ll never understand the jealousy mentality that darkens this industry. Support one another and we all thrive. That’s my motto in life and in business.

    Also, I just wanted to add… I too struggled with selling of CD’s and image files and whether or not to do it. I learned to shoot on film, so flipping to digital was a whole other world, a whole other business. But one day I realized my business was either going to sink or swim. I compared it to the music industry. Just as they have had to adjust to people not wanting to buy CD’s, the photography industry must adjust to the changing times as well. I’m not saying you shouldn’t sell prints anymore, because Lord knows I love a good print sale, but I realized I can’t be blaming all the up and comers on the fact that people want CD’s. The digital age changed that fact, not the newbies in the business. I had to accept that and change and keep on rolling!

  4. June 14, 2010 at 10:31 am — Reply

    I welcome competition. It makes each of us better. Clients who book NightinGail Photography like our style, our approach and our staff. We don’t want to be getting clients based on the lowest common demoninator. We want people who have vision and want something extraordinatory and not cookie-cutter photography.

  5. June 14, 2010 at 10:46 am — Reply

    Great post. I’m one of those who doesn’t worry about all the shoot n’ burn amateurs posing as pros. I educate the public about the difference but the main thing I concentrate on is setting myself apart from everyone else. I’m the only photographer in this area who focuses on wall portraits and albums, whereas everyone else focuses on selling digital files. I also conduct myself and my business in a very business-like manner, as it should be. I also provide a service to clients and potential clients in providing them with ideas for using/displaying their photos.

  6. June 14, 2010 at 11:12 am — Reply

    I’ve noticed many people spending too much energy focusing on their competition instead of focusing that same energy on their own work. There seems to be so much drama over someone “stealing” or “copying” their work that, at least for me, is a turn off to that particular photographer or other artist. In the words of Bryan Peterson, “Do what you do-and do it better than anyone else-and you’ll have the world at your doorstep.” Please stop with the drama and focus on your own work. There really is enough work for everyone.

  7. June 14, 2010 at 11:31 am — Reply

    I read this, AND I read all the comments on your FB page. Here’s my take on it. I do what I do because I love it. Don’t disparage, discount, or discourage a MWAC. I was once one too. BUT…I had a very good professional photographer take the time to mentor me. I learned from the best. I volunteered to assist her for free. She in turn trained me to do things, both with my camera AND with photoshop. It was, in essence, a barter of sorts. We also BOTH belonged to a photography club where we had a mix of pros and amateurs. Once a month, they worked out a guest speaker. Sometimes it was one of our own group members, other times they would get someone who specialized in something (pet photography, post-production, etc). It was beneficial to ALL. And let me tell you, there was MORE than enough business to go around.

    I keep my prices low, because my clientele is not rich. I could refuse to do charity/free/low-price sessions…but this gift was given to me by someone, and I want to share it with those who can appreciate it. I have a small, but growing client base. They like my work, they share with others, and word of mouth becomes good business.

    Like anything else nowadays, people will shop around for the best price. Someone on FB mentioned that they got frustrated when a potential client would say “oh, so-and-so will do it for less, and give me more.” I would say to that client, “well, go for it, then!” Because everyone wants the biggest bang for the buck. And in the end, people have different perspectives on what they want and the quality of work.

    I’ve seen some photography websites/photos that SCARE me (pictures that I would not even print, much less offer to sell to a client), yet the photographer has glowing reviews, lots of clients. Because apparently that is what those clients want.

    So, in the end I say – help out, mentor and train the newbies. Start a club and share ideas, techniques, and potential clients. (The best thing you can ever hear from another photographer is, “Hey, I got a call for a client, but I’m already booked for that day, and the first person I thought of was you!”

    And find your niche. You may be a studio hound…you may be a nature gal/guy, you might be an action photog. I’m an on-site, casual portrait artist. I have found what works for me. I don’t copy others’ work, I put my own personal touches in my photography.

  8. June 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm — Reply

    Excellent article. I was lucky enough when I started out to meet some great photogs with a collaborative attitude that set me up for success.

  9. June 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm — Reply

    when i started out i charged barely anything and gave away digital files. i was learning and growing and i needed to develop my skills, find my style and determine whether i could make a business out of my hobby. when i felt my work was at a professional level, and i could offer a professional service i set up my work as a business and charged accordingly.

    not all of my first clients (who got a great deal but not my most professional work) have followed me. that’s ok. people who want cheap will find cheap. people who want value will find value. people who want exclusive and luxe will find it. YOU need to focus on YOUR business and who YOUR clients are. focus on your USP, your niche and your ideal clients and then go find them.

    and in the meantime, i agree that we need to create a culture within the photographer world that is less ‘mean-girl’ and competitive and more about sharing. if you are reading this and are looking for someone to share ideas with i am absolutely willing. =)

  10. June 14, 2010 at 1:41 pm — Reply

    I read through all the comments here and on FB. As an amateur with professional aspirations, I’ll admit that I find many of the comments from established photographers completely baffling. And it indicates that they need to give Jodi’s piece another read. Because many of the professionals who responded seem to be confused as to exactly who/what their competition is.

    Why would one consider a person who shoots on Auto Mode with no post processing your competition? If your work is that indistinguishable from theirs, then you need to improve your skill set, not obsess over how little that other person is charging. In fact, you may want to sit down with them and have them mentor you on business development and marketing; because their ability to make money while putting in minimal time and effort suggests they have good business acumen, if not artistic talent.

    We live in an increasingly image-heavy and image-concious society. Think about how few people had social media profile pages and personal avatars just five years ago. Now, people are much more aware of their image as a brand. As ever more people carry ever more devices around that deliver visual content (think smart phones, iPod Touch, and iPad), the more visually literate everyone becomes. That increased literacy only increases the demand people will have skilled photography and image manipulation. Skills you won’t have simply because you bout a $1000 SLR and a $500 copy of Photoshop.

    There will always be people with entry-level skills who manage to make money off the least-knowlegeable customer. Guess what? That customer doesn’t value what you do. Why would you ever need to fight over them?

    Just as there are people who eat off the dollar menu at a Fast Food Chain A, there are people who buy $100 Kobe beef burgers served with handmade ketchup and house-cured pickles at Restaurant B. Does the chef at Restaurant B give two hoots about how many burgers Fast Food Chain A serves? Of course not. His customers have different tastes.

    In fact, there are so many different customers out there, with different budgets and preferences, there are 15 restaurants on the same block serving burgers and they are *all* making money. The key is identifying which customers want your burgers and enticing them to come in your door.

    This is true for competitors in any business, regardless of how creative. If anyone out there is making money on their creative talents alone–and not by their keen marketing and networking abilities (i.e. business skills)– then the only thing that can be said is: they are not making as much as they could be.

  11. June 14, 2010 at 1:54 pm — Reply

    So glad you commented on this Karen! I create custom hand knit newborn photography props in the high-end of the market. I design all of my own patterns, use handspun yarns exclusively, and take the time to photograph each item in about five different ways in order to allow one to see all possible angles. I’m also lucky enough to have found an … See Moreawesome fiber artist who will custom dye any color combination that I envision. Not everyone can afford my items but as with any business, you have a choice. The market is flooded with people making newborn photography props and seems to be growing at an amazing rate. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve moved away from my Etsy shop to focus on both my Big Cartel shop and my photography.

    As for the constant bickering and lack of support in the photography industry, I see the same in my prop business. I have actually had two well-known newborn prop designers (one from Canada, one from the States) threaten to sue me due to copyright infringement. First of all, do your research on copyright vs trademark before you threaten anyone, and secondly, focus on your own business without worrying about your competition. Did this get me to quit my business? No, it actually motivated me even more to strive to be better!

    I value both my time and talent and pride myself in offering truly UNIQUE and one-of-a-kind hand knits. As for my photography, I find that some people simply are not supportive while others are very encouraging. There is too much of a “Look at me!” attitude when it comes to newborn photography with not much encouragement of others. I’m grateful for all of those who are willing to share their knowledge and take the time to respond when I send them an email.

  12. June 14, 2010 at 2:53 pm — Reply

    Good article and I think competition is a very healthy thing for a business and a fantastic thing for clients/customers. If there is no competition, there is no reason for a business to try to excel. Though I don’t consider myself a competitive person (I’m more a “live and let live” type) I recognize that competition keeps me on my toes and helps me to always strive to reach beyond my current level.

  13. Greta S.
    June 14, 2010 at 3:15 pm — Reply

    I, too, am just starting out and aspiring to be a “pro”. But I know its going to take alot of hard work, training and knowledge before I get there. I am scared to ask other photos for advice for fear of them snubbing me. I don’t want to be good at what they do, I want to be good at what I DO. Photography is art. We cannot all possibly be the same. 10 people taking a pic of the same thing will allcome out different, depending on thier “view” and skills. When I do eventually go “pro” after my training, I will charge what I feel I deserve, what is right for my skills. And if I get better and really good, then the prices will adjust accordingly.

  14. June 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm — Reply

    Thank you, Jodi for writing this and thank you, Yolanda for commenting above—well said!!!

  15. June 14, 2010 at 3:33 pm — Reply

    Having taken an accredited course or having been a photographer since the days of film is not the criteria for being a professional. Continuous learning through reading and practicing and challenging yourself on a daily basis will pave the way toward your professional development. It takes time and depends on your willingness to invest your time in learning as opposed to worrying endlessly on what your competition is doing. (This was my second comment on Facebook).

  16. June 14, 2010 at 5:50 pm — Reply

    So many of you have HIT IT RIGHT ON with your comments- one thing I want to add, in the vein of the fact that in every field, there are multiple markets and levels of price/service/value/clientele, is that we can’t use blanket statements to say MWACS are “bad” because they ruin established businesses/the industry- because I could name right now 100 other fields wherin there are MWAC to Ultra-Posh levels of products available- it’s just hitting the photog industry very hard in the last decade, esp the last 5 years or so with the now common availability of DSLRs and the ease and inexpensive developing of digital images. MWACS are not dispicable or “bad”- we all have taste and whether an individual MWAC’s work trully is terrible, or not, isn’t what I’m getting at- but that this is America. We aren’t entitled to a living. We earn it. And as time marches on every industry evolves. MANY photogs complain about MWACs, how they’re ruining everything- but what they are doing is NOT wrong- we may not like it, we may get a little queasy at SOME of the work we see floating around, but they are not doing something wrong. This is capitalism.

    Also- just as much as we need to earn our living doing something we love- we need to serve our clients. Clients aren’t just out for the cheapest- some just don’t understand the value, some just can not afford higher end photogs, no matter what, or not without using debt. There is room for all levels, and we need to fight against any urge to say some levels aren’t invited to come and play.

    My husband, a design engineer, was out of work for 7.5 months last year. Family of 6, suddenly without his established income. (Praise God, he’s now back in his position strong as ever!)

    What about the recession? Doesn’t that affect us all? Don’t just blame the MWACs- this has been hard times for SO MANY. NO WONDER people are looking for extreme value. For a large portion of last year, heck, I couldn’t have afforded myself!!!! And no wonder MWAC’s are popping up more and more every day- many families are looking for extra income.

    It’s complex.

    I love the discussion.

  17. June 14, 2010 at 7:09 pm — Reply

    I love this article, just today the mother of one of my “Senior Reps” told me that a photographer close to us was offering 50% off her senior sessions in June…I think her fee is $50 so does that mean she can shoot and edit for $25 and still make a profit? She apologized for telling me…and I said please don’t apologize, that is not who I am as a photographer and not who I want to be. I made a decision before I ever started making money that I was a boutique photographer, though I might struggle at first, I knew this was how I would structure my business….a very wise woman told me if I don’t believe in myself and believe I am worth it, no one else will believe it either! Believe in yourself, it is so worth it in the end:)

  18. Kristina Seifert
    June 15, 2010 at 11:03 am — Reply

    Jodi,

    Thank you for the reminder…competition is a good thing. I sometimes catch myself getting caught up in the stress of thinking there are others out there doing the same as I and sometimes I feel like its paralyzing. Yes, creatively paralyzing. But if I remind myself how competition is a positive thing it motivates me, in a happy, non paralyzing way.

    Thanks for the reminder, this newbie needs it. 😀

  19. June 17, 2010 at 4:04 pm — Reply

    Great article. I see so many people worrying about what everyone else is doing rather than figuring out a business model that works for them and finding clients that line up with that. The only think competition should serve to do is grow, build and develop… it really means progress.

    Thanks for posting!

  20. June 21, 2010 at 3:40 am — Reply

    found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later

  21. October 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm — Reply

    I agree 100% with this article. I picked up my first DSLR primarily to do infant bereavement sessions for http://www.nilmdts.org with the occasional paid shoot on the side for fun and to pay for my volunteer habit. But the day I started shooting, a friend of mine in the neighborhood quit talking to me for nearly a year! She was so petrified that I was going to take her business. It took her a long time to realize that we are indeed catering to different circles of people even though we live within blocks of each other, that I DON’T want a serious business side of it, and that I DON’T want to cater to the crowd that can afford her prices. She’s cautiously returned to conversations again, but the damage has been done. Makes me sad. On the flip side, I have several friends that also volunteer with NILMDTS and we’ve done shoots together and referred business back and forth – a true collaboration of efforts that has been win-win all around.

  22. October 24, 2011 at 10:46 pm — Reply

    Loved this article, as I just moved to a ‘small town’ and am the “new Photographer/competition”- I didn’t plan it that way, I moved because of my husbands job, and lucky for me, my business being Jessanna Jones Photography can be taken any where. I don’t want to be threatening to others, nor do I want to feel threatened by ‘competition’ instead, as I glanced out my widow the other day, only to see a photographer doing a beautiful toddler/family photo session right there in the park in front of my house.. I told myself, there is enough people in Yorkton for all of us photographers.. bless her! And you know what? I felt HAPPY for her, and enjoyed watching it from an observing angle! Well said Jody! p.s Your actions are wonderful!

  23. July 18, 2013 at 11:44 pm — Reply

    I’m SO glad you posted this! I am a newbie but started doing research and experimenting as soon as I got my camera. I will admit that I am still learning and far from experienced, but I have gathered paying clients and turned out some great shots. A guy I’ve never met before (photographer) facebooked me today and told me that I was obviously a beginner and was charging too much, and gave me some links to look at “until I get better”. Maybe he was trying to help, but why would I turn down paying clients if they obviously like my work because he has different standards? I couldn’t even IMAGINE doing that to someone. I appreciate other photographers since they have a passion for what I am also passionate about. Hopefully I will meet some more mature and polite people who can handle and welcome the competition. Great piece on this subject!

  24. May 7, 2014 at 5:12 am — Reply

    Great tips to keep your head above the water in the teeming competition. Loved the post!

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Embrace Competition in the World of Photography